City Commission Passes Resolution Condemning Live Nude Entertainment

The Grand Rapids City Commission admitted that the resolution they passed Tuesday will do little to stop live nude entertainment in Grand Rapids, but Judy Rose of the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community said that the resolution was a good first step in confronting adult entertainment in Grand Rapids.

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The Grand Rapids City Commission admitted that the resolution they passed Tuesday will do little to stop live nude entertainment in Grand Rapids, but Judy Rose of the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community said that the resolution was a good first step in confronting adult entertainment in Grand Rapids. Rose was one of four citizens speaking in favor of a resolution that would condemn such activity. Rose had recently enlisted the help of the Michigan Decency Action Council and together were seeking an ordinance which would ban such activity.

The resolution was passed in response to local businessman Mark London’s planned “adult entertainment complex” called Showgirl Galleria at 234 Market Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. London also owns the Sensations club on the East Beltline. There have been numerous attempts to prevent Showgirl Galleria from opening, but the City was unable to prevent the club from opening, which now plans to open in spring of 2006. The City Attorney advised the Commission that they could do little more than pass a mild resolution, citing the fact that they were unable to ban such a businesses and that a failed attempt four years ago to close down the Velvet Touch adult bookstore ended up costing the City $250,000 in legal fees. At one point in the evening, supporters of the resolution even offered to setup a legal defense fund to help the City defend itself from potential legal action.

While most of the supporters framed the issue in terms of morality and arguing that nude entertainment was “immoral” and disrupted the City’s reputation as a place of Christian values, the resolution did state that the entertainment “promotes the exploitation of women.” Commissioner Tormala argued for a more expansive resolution that would have targeted all businesses engaged in “adult entertainment” and could have been used as a “teaching moment” to explain to the citizens of Grand Rapids how “adult entertainment” affects the community by exploiting women, promoting violence against women, and increasing sexual crimes such as prostitution and assault. Moreover, a more general resolution could have been useful in making it clear that businesses like Tini Bikinis and others that profit from the exploitation of women, regardless of the level of nudity, are not welcome in Grand Rapids.

MOSAIC Collaborative Opens

A new community center called the MOSAIC Collaborative opened this weekend with the hope that it can provide a venue for artists to sell their goods, musicians to play shows, and a place to distribute radical literature.

A new community center called the MOSAIC Collaborative had its grand opening on Saturday, July 9. The event, attended by approximately 50 people, was the first event held at the space recently setup by the Grand Rapids branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The storefront, located at 1317 E Fulton, includes space for local artists to sell goods on a consignment basis, a small literature distribution and library organized by the Literature Committee of the Grand Rapids IWW, and a basement that will serve as a venue for concerts and workshops. A bulletin board is also available for local activists to post flyers about upcoming events.

Among the goals of the project:

  • To promote the ideas and efforts of the IWW and what the union stands for, namely, an elevated working class consciousness, workplace justice, and equality regarding race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and age. Much more information on the IWW, labor history, and other topics is available in the shop.
  • To engage the community in the creative and functional works of local artisans. Small-scale industry is a key component for gaining economic self-sufficiency (creating alternatives to corporate controlled industry). People working together, and exchanging goods in a localized economy can make meaningful an dignified work that the job market lacks.
  • To build community through an open access to information and differing viewpoints. The space and time at MOSAIC will be shared to encourage community networking and various group meetings. MOSAIC is open as a reading room, and for discussion, in a way making additional seating for Common Ground coffee house.
  • To have some fun, lastly, but surely not the least. There will be various events scheduled at MOSAIC, including a movie/discussion night, informational speakers, a weekly poetry reading, musical performance, open drumming circles, the list could go on… Events will also increase the potential for information at MOSAIC to be put into action, and, events will provide for more sales of consignment goods. MOSAIC is a socializing and performance hall for that purpose.

The MOSAIC plans to fund itself through IWW memberships, consignment sales, sales of literature, admission to events, external fundraising, and donations.

Clinical Services for Low Income Residents Lacking in Grand Rapids

Catherine’s Care Center, a medical facility serving primarily low income and uninsured residents in Grand Rapids, recently had a portion of its funding cut by St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s, who contributed $115,000 or a third of Catherine’s Care Center’s budget each year, withdrew funding under the assumption that health care services could be better provided by other clinics in the area and that there was an unnecessary duplication of services. One local blog, the Local Area Watch, decided to evaluate St. Mary’s claim by creating a fictional medical scenario and conducting a brief survey of looking at what the various clinics offer for the uninsured, what they cost, and how quickly an appointment could be made. The survey confirmed what most uninsured patients know in the Grand Rapids area–it is very difficult to find a clinic duplicating the services offered by Catherine’s Care Center. Catherine’s Care Center offered the lowest rates and the greatest availability for new patients. Predictably, the two options offered by St. Mary’s as alternatives to Catherine’s Care Center–Wege Health Center and Belknap Commons–were the least accessible, with the Wege Health Center offering know financial assistance and warning about high costs for the uninsured and Belknap Commons not taking any new patients.

Cities and the Creative Class

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Richard Florida’s theory that a “creative class” made up of professionals involved in what he terms “creative” occupations is the main catalyst for the development of cities and regions has become one of the preeminent theories of urban development amongst planners, including those in the state of Michigan. Numerous states have launched projects like Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative hoping to attract the fabled creative class Florida discusses in his books, 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class and 2005’sCities and the Creative Class. Cities and the Creative Class is a companion book to The Rise of the Creative Class, compiling the empirical data used to make the conclusions presented in The Rise of the Creative Class.

Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory is based on the idea that the creative sector of the economy is the driving force behind most new development and that those cities that have high percentages of people in the “creative class” are the fastest growing regions in the country. Florida defines the creative class as those people employed in science and engineering, research and development, technology-based industries, arts, music, culture, design work, or knowledge-based professions. People employed in these professions account for nearly half of the wage income earned in the United States and about a third of the total workforce. Florida grounds his theory in “the 3 T’s,” technology, talent, and tolerance, and uses copious amounts of data to prove that regions that blend these three areas are experiencing the most development. Moreover, Florida argues that his theory emphasizes the expansive role of culture, the limitless potential of humanity, and the importance of unleashing that potential to spur societal growth.

Florida’s theory of the creative class has garnered criticism, a fact that he cites in his book. Due to Florida’s use of his “gay index” to determine a city’s relative diversity, Florida has been accused of “eroding traditional family values, promoting a gay agenda, and that he is undermining the tenets of Judeo-Christian civilization”–not a particularly coherent critique, but one that would no doubt arise in the era of conservative culture wars. To this criticism, Florida responds that he is “straight” and is not promoting a “gay agenda;” a response that is inherently problematic and unenlightened. Unfortunately, this type of response, at least as far as this work is concerned, seems typical of the flippant nature by which Florida rejects criticism of his theory. A far more coherent critique could be made regarding the fact that Florida’s Creative Class is fairly exclusive, and while there is the theoretical possibility that some people may move from low-paying service industry jobs into his coveted Creative Class careers, the fact remains that only one-third of the United States workforce is a part of Florida’s class. Consequently, development designed to cater towards this minority population-who more likely than not has a high disposable income to fund a lifestyle in which they act like “tourists in their own cities” who treat themselves to a variety of luxuries-downplays the real needs of the majority of people in US cities. Florida briefly responds to this criticism, mentioning that critics on the left have accused him of wanting to make “cities yuppie-friendly”, yet he shies away from a serious discussion of the possibility of gentrification arising from the cities targeting the Creative Class. Florida’s so-called “bohemian” artists have long been the first wave of gentrification in cities across the United States and a failure to account for this remains one of the most serious flaws in the book, along with the fact that one of the barriers for entry into the Creative Class includes specialized education that is systematically denied to low-income populations in the United States.

Consequently, it is not surprising when Florida demonstrates little concern for the people who are most likely to be affected as a result of development based on his theory of the Creative Class. Rather than be concerned about the fact that all people suffer the effects of uneven regional development, Florida bemoans the fact that artists and creative people may be forced out-but demonstrates no genuine concern the low income people with or without homes that are forced out of city centers as they are redeveloped to satisfy the “needs” of the Creative Class. It is no surprise that Florida’s own numbers show that inequality is the worst in regions with a high-level of creative development. Moreover, while Florida shows little concern for people of low-income, he displays strikingly little concern for the gay population that he uses as a barometer for diversity. After praising the “progressive” nature of the gay population and their presence in urban centers, Florida says nothing about the importance of gay rights and instead refers to himself using the oppressive “straight” construct when explaining that he is not an advocate of “the gay agenda.”

Despite the flaws of the Creative Class theory, it remains one of the major influences on urban redevelopment, and as such, deserves the attention of those interested in development. Cities and the Creative Class provides the perfect starting point for those seeking to better understand the theory, as it provides the raw numbers used by Florida to arrive at the conclusions outlined in his The Rise of the Creative Class. For most people in the United States, Florida’s theory and suggestions offer nothing, but his book does provide an important information on current development patterns.

Richard Florida, Cities and the Creative Class, (Routledge, 2005).

Is the City’s “Graffiti Crackdown” Working?

Back in February, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and the city announced that they are going to start aggressively pursuing graffiti artists by using a variety of methods including increased patrols in so-called “problem” areas, faster clean-up of graffiti, and possibly even ordinances that would restrict the sale of spray paint to those under 18. While fairly little has been reported publicly about the success of the crackdown since it kicked off in February with the arrest of five artists, police have recently arrested two artists who have reportedly admitted responsibility for over 100 incidents. In addition, the Streets and Sanitation Department has been painting over the graffiti that built up over the winter months, using two city crews as well as community service crews from the 61st District Court to clean the graffiti.

While it is nearly impossible to tell if it is the result of the police crackdown or just the cold weather of March and April, there has been noticeably less graffiti around the city and what has been painted has been covered up quickly by the city. A recent update to the Grand Rapids Graffiti and Street Art web site featured relatively little new art as well, generally confirming the idea that graffiti has decreased in frequency.

City Planning Department Approves More Condos

The City’s planning department has approved plans for two nine-story condominium towers at the corner of Bond Street and Trowbridge Avenue. Moch International, a company headed by Joseph W. Moch, is developing the towers. Moch, who last winter “threatened” to build low-income housing on the site after people living in nearby upscale condos criticized his original design, has had a difficult time getting approval for the project and has faced numerous delays in constructed as a result of various hearings before the city’s Planning Commission.

While Moch’s arrogance and paternalistic use of low-income people as a threat against rich neighbors should be reason enough to oppose the project, there has never been an honest evaluation of how best to meet the housing needs of all residents in downtown Grand Rapids–both those currently with homes and those without. Condos in Moch’s “Icon on Bond” project will sell from $186,900 to $421,675, joining numerous other downtown construction projects aimed solely at wealthy residents.

City of Grand Rapids Announces Wireless Internet Test Sites

The City of Grand Rapids, who has been working on plans for the development of a city-wide wireless internet network, has announced plans for the unveiling of demonstration networks this June. The demonstration networks will all run for eight weeks and will be free to the public in a variety of neighborhoods. The first test phase will go live on June 1st and will include wireless networks covering the areas around Calder Plaza and City Hall, the Police Department, Van Andel Research Institute, and Kent County’s Fuller campus. The second test phase will take place at Creston High School, the Leonard and Covell Fire Station, the Wealthy Theatre, Walker City Hall, and an undetermined location in Kentwood and will go live on July 1st.

In addition to the city’s plans for a wireless network, there are a number of other free wireless networks around Grand Rapids. A list of wireless networks is maintained at grwifit.net.

Proposed Downtown Development Targets Low to Middle Income People

A new downtown apartment complex called Metropolitan Park Apartments is being proposed in the Heartside neighborhood. The 24 apartment building would offer two and three bedroom apartments between $549 and $749. The apartment complex would be built across Ionia Street from the new Heartside Park, a park that gained media attention recently back in September 2004 for its housing of many local homeless people.

While a new apartment complex targeting people working in the downtown service industry as a part of the “Cool Cities” initiative dubbed “Avenue of the Arts” may sound like another “hip” project that will usher in changing neighborhood dynamics and possibly gentrification, the proposed apartment complex is a vast improvement over much of the recent development in the downtown area. Over the past year development plans have consisted largely of projects aimed at the wealthy, including the renovation of formerly low-income housing at the YMCA into “upscale condominiums,” the proposed construction of a new luxury hotel by Amway (Alticor), the opening of several upscale restaurants targeting suburbanites that come to the downtown area for entertainment, and “sexploitation clubs” such as Showgirl Galleria and Tini Bikinis. These development projects have been largely endorsed by the city and the local media as harbingers of a new downtown–awarding developers with tax breaks and laudatory coverage, while there has been little serious discussion about how development in the downtown area and its impact on existing residents, both those with homes and those without. Proposed development plans offer little low-income housing and no space has been formally set aside for those without homes, demonstrating that much remains to be done before development projects cater to the needs of all city residents.

GRPD Promises Graffiti Crackdown

Fresh off the arrests of five “taggers”, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is promising an aggressive crackdown on graffiti artists that may result in prison time.

Fresh off the arrests of five “taggers”, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is promising an aggressive crackdown on graffiti artists that may result in prison time. Of course, the police cannot do this on their own and the corporate media are obligingly doing their perceived duty to “help the community” by acting as official conduits for police misinformation. Central to this effort has been the portrayal of the city as “under siege” by graffiti artists. The GRPD and the city of Grand Rapids are making use of this supposed “rash” of graffiti to suggest draconian measures such as electronic tethers and outlawing the sale of spray paint to minors to create a public climate of fear in which there is no discussion about the ramifications for civil liberties of using tethers and other methods to stop graffiti, methods which will undoubtedly target primarily youth.

Not surprisingly, the corporate media’s coverage of the “graffiti crackdown” has been full of sensationalism, effectively portraying graffiti as a type of crime that residents need to fear. The local print and broadcast media has run a number of stories that create a sense of hysteria, with graffiti “tagging” being portrayed as out of control. The articles have been full of completely ridiculous assertions, with Guy Bazzani claiming that graffiti is “robbing the soul of this community,” parents supposedly wondering “oh no, where are my kids living?,” and even news readers trying their hand at spray paint while talking about how the police are “aggressively searching for the spray paint perpetrators.” WOOD TV 8, who claims to have “broken the story,” ran a piece last night in which they claim to have urgent information, reporting the supposed “new information” that graffiti artists engage in “competition” and that graffiti involves both art and “protest against capitalism.”

An article in today’s Grand Rapids Press describes graffiti artists as “punkers” who plan hang out in coffee shops planning their “targets.” Police are aggressively searching for the artists known as “MEEK” and “RANK,” whom the GRPD believe to “have commanded a following of at least 20 other taggers.” Of course, such comments are ridiculous and as shown in the arrests of members of NBC (Notorious Bomb Crew); the leads the police are using come from lower tier artists who are willing to pass along rumors to the police in exchange for lighter sentences. Even a cursory look at graffiti in Grand Rapids indicates that the graffiti scene is much larger than a few artists and that a few arrests will not stop a decentralized art form that has been steadily growing in popularity over the past five years.

For More Information: Grand Rapids Graffiti and Street Art

Alitcor (Amway) Unveils Plans for New Downtown Hotel

Yesterday Alticor (formerly Amway) announced plans for a new hotel that will be built across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. The hotel will feature a 24-story glass atrium, one of the largest ballrooms in the state, and a helicopter landing pad. The hotel project was initiated by Amway founders Richard DeVos and the late Jay VanAndel. In a press release issued by Alticor, Amway co-founder Richard DeVos described how proud he was of the new hotel, stating that “Jay and I often talked about this day, when we would proudly showcase another example of our love for the city we grew up in.”

Predictably, most of the local media provided glowing reports of the announcement, speaking in awe of the “football” shape and how the hotel will “support area tourism” and generally echoing the words in Alticor’s press release. None of the local media outlets examined the real motives behind the construction, one of which is most certainly profit, instead choosing to focus on the allegedly benevolent and selfless aspects of DeVos and VanAndel’s building ventures while largely ignoring the fact that many of these building projects have been funded, in part, by a considerable amount of public money. The new hotel is no different, with Alticor receiving $5.9 million in Single Business Tax credits for the $60 million construction project. Also absent was any discussion of the recent trend in development in downtown that promotes up-scale entertainment and living options designed for wealthy people, options that are only accessible to a small minority of downtown residents.